So she laughed to herself, saying, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
1. The incongruity between a Divine promise and the sphere of its fulfillment is temptation to unbelief.
2. A disposition to measure the reality and certainty of the Divine by a human or earthly standard is sure to lead us to irreverence and sinful doubt.
3. There may be an inward and concealed working, known to God though not outwardly expressed. Which is still both an insult to him a d an injury to us.
4. The root of unbelief is in the ground of the soul. Sarah laughed because she was not prepared for the gracious promise. She was afraid of her own thoughts because they were not such as became her, and did dishonor to God's sufficiency and love. "She denied, saying, I laughed not." A more receptive and spiritual mind would have both risen above the incongruity and been incapable of the dissimulation. - R.
I. GOD APPEARS AS MAN,
He took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them.I. As A COMMON DUTY.
II. AS A DUTY OF PIETY. Thus viewed, all duties are ennobled.
1. In their form.
2. In their motive.
3. The best qualities of the soul are developed.
III. As A DUTY WHICH IS PROPHETIC OF SOMETHING BEYOND ITSELF, AS genius does not always know all it utters, so the faithful and loving heart cannot always relate what it holds. Such was the ease with Abraham in his history. His duty rapidly rises in the form and meaning of it.
1. He entertains men on the principles of common hospitality (ver. 2).
2. He entertains angels.
3. He entertains God.
(T. H. Leale.)
II. GOD PASSES THROUGH THE SAME EXPERIENCE AS MAN. The angel Jehovah performs human actions, and passes through human conditions.
1. He both speaks and listens to human words. This Divine visitor converses freely with Abraham, and listens to his offer of hospitality. So God manifest in our nature spoke with human lips, and heard through ears of flesh the voices of men.
2. He shares the common necessities of man. This Divine visitor has no real need for food and refreshment, and yet He partakes of them. Jesus, though He had no need of us in the greatness and independence of His majesty, yet took our infirmities and necessities upon Him. He lived amongst men, eating and drinking with them, and partaking of the shelter they offered.
3. As man He receives service from man. Jehovah, under the appearance of a man, partook of the food and of the hospitable services which Abraham offered. So Christ, in the days of His flesh, received the attentions of human kindness, shelter, food, comfort. He had special friends, such as those of the household of Bethany, which He loved so well. He was grateful for every act of kindness done to Him.
III. GOD MANIFEST IS RECOGNIZED ONLY BY THE SPIRITUAL MIND.
(T. H. Leale,)
I. ABRAHAM TREATED HIS VISITORS WITH TRUE EASTERN HOSPITALITY.
II. MAY IT NOT BE THAT CHRIST COMES TO US OFTEN IN THE GUISE OF A STRANGER? Does He not test us thus? Of course if He were to come in His manifested splendour as the Son of the Highest, every one would receive Him, and provide Him with sumptuous hospitality. But this would not reveal our true character. And so He comes to us as a wayfaring man, hungry and athirst; or as a stranger, naked and sick. Those that are akin to Him will show Him mercy, in whatsoever disguise He comes, though they recognize Him not, and will be surprised to learn that they ever ministered to Him. Those, on the other hand, who are not really His, will fail to discern Him; will let Him go unhelped away; and will wake up to find that "inasmuch as they did it not to one of the least of these, they did it not to Him."
III. GOD NEVER LEAVES IN OUR DEBT. He takes care to pay for His entertainment, royally and divinely.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
II. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN IN HUMAN FORM.
III. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN UNRECOGNIZED.
IV. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN IN BLESSING. V GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN AT CRITICAL PERIODS.
VI. WHEN GOD VISITS HIS. CHILDREN, HE WILL BE BEST RECEIVED IN THE DISCHARGE OF THE SIMPLEST DUTIES.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Homilist.Lessons to be learned.
I. KINDLINESS TO STRANGERS.
II. FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.
III. THAT THERE IS A CONCATENATION BETWEEN OUR SINS. Want of trust, such as Sarah showed, necessarily leads to want of courage, and want of courage is the ready cause of want of truth. Let us avoid the first steps to evil.
IV. THE SIN OR INNOCENCE OF ANY ACTION DEPENDS UPON MOTIVES. Abraham laughed with joy, Sarah from incredulity. An action commendable in the one, was sinful in the other.
V. THE LONGSUFFERING AND CONDESCENSION OF GOD.
VI. THE WONDERFUL EFFICACY OF PRAYER. VII. THAT FOR THE ELECT'S SAKE THE DAYS OF EVIL ARE OFTEN SHORTENED OR POSTPONED. Great leaders produce great causes, as much as great causes produce great leaders. VIII. NOW SPIRITUALLY, AS FORMERLY ACTUALLY, GOD VISITS HIS PEOPLE.
(Homilist.)I. THE UNEXPECTED GUESTS.
II. THE POSITIVE PROMISE. To believe God's word is the path to blessing.
III. THE REVEALED SECRET.
(W. S. Smith, B. D.)
I. Upon THE MODE IN WHICH THE DIVINE LIFE APPROACHED THE MAN. "The Lord appeared unto him"... "Lo, three men stood by him."
1. The mode in which the Divine Life manifested His presence to the patriarch, as recorded in this passage, is regarded by the Church as an adumbration of the fundamental doctrine of the Christian verity, that we worship the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity. This passage is accordingly appointed to be read on the festival of the Trinity. The words, "The Lord appeared unto him," give expression to the Unity of the Divine life. The words that describe the forms of the vision in which God manifested Himself to the soul of the man, "Lo, three men stood by him," express the other aspect of this great mystery, and teach us to think of Three Persons existing within the One Essence of God. St. John the Divine, in his book of Revelation, has been inspired by God to use words which may enable us by analogy to form some faint conception of the relations eternally existing between the three Persons in the Godhead. He illustrates those relations by teaching us to think of the Three Persons in the One Godhead, as we think of the three divisions of one time. Now, the past in time presents itself to our minds as the fountain and origin out of which the present is for ever being born, and out of which the future is for ever destined to proceed. The present, in which we have our being, is for ever departing from us, in order to return into the bosom of that past out of which it came, and in which it dwells. The future comes to us for ever, sent by the departed present, and coming, when it comes, in the name of the present. Our only existence is for ever dependent upon our standing-place in the present. It is our communion, or participation of the present, that enables us to look back, and to remember the past out of which we have come. It is by virtue of our standing on the rock of the present, that we can look forward to the future which it is about to send to us. In the same manner we think of God the Father as the fountain of being, who hath created us, and to whom we look back, seeking the knowledge of our destiny in His creative purpose. So St. John represents the Father as "Holy"... "Lord God Almighty that was." We think of the Son as the Ever Present Life, who gives to us our standing in existence. "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." As we go back into the past, by standing in the present, so we can only come to the Father through the Son. He for ever says, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." Likewise, as the present leads on to the future, so the Son sends to us — proceeding from the Father and Himself — the Holy Ghost. The "Holy Lord God Almighty that is," departs and intercedes to send to us the "Holy Lord God Almighty that is to come." Furthermore, although we necessarily think of time as presenting itself to our consciousness in these three forms, we nevertheless think of it as one in itself. The past, the present, and the future, are not three, but one time.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL RECEIVED THE APPROACH OF GOD. Let us proceed to dwell upon the characteristics that marked the spiritual attitude of Abraham in welcoming the Divine vision.
1. We may, perhaps, infer from these opening words, "He lift up his eyes and looked," the very simple, but very necessary, lesson that the presence of God cannot be realized, unless the soul of man directs its gaze above the objects of the sensual, earthly life. There are men who never rise in thought or feeling above the low level of earthly, transitory interests: that plain upon which are built the habitations that are doomed to crumble into dust The prayerless, thoughtless, sensual, earthly-minded man, cannot realize the presence of the Most High. The splendour of the Triune Majesty never dawns upon the eye of the soul that is engrossed in earthly things. Let no one expect to be partakers of Abraham's lofty experiences, unless he strives to follow Abraham's example, and to direct the aspirations of his soul upward.
2. We may also learn from this passage the well-known but frequently neglected truth, that there must be an effort of the soul to go forth, as it were, out of the habits of self, to meet the Divine life that comes near. Such seems to be the significance of the very simple but very deep words, "He ran to meet them from the tent door." The neglect of this truth has doomed many souls to long darkness and exclusion from the presence of God. Man must use the freedom of his will to go forth to meet the coming of God. There are some who have been misled by the influence of false teaching to ignore this great truth. They have reasoned in their hearts, saying, "If I am chosen and predestined to realize the blessed sight of God's countenance, He will, in His good time, make an irresistible approach to my soul, and force His Divine presence into the innermost chambers of my being. It is not necessary that I should use that power of will which I have received, in order to go forth to meet Him, who will come, or not come, to me according to His own good pleasure and eternal decree." Man cannot by his own will cause God to be either present or absent from His sanctuary and throne of grace. "His tabernacle is with men." But man can neglect to fulfil those conditions upon which God's presence can be realized by his own soul. By sloth, prayerlessness, and apathy, he can remain beneath the shadow of his earthly tent, and lose the vision of God, because he will neither lift up his eyes, nor go forth to meet Him.
3. The attitude of the patriarch in welcoming the Divine presence teaches us another lesson, viz., the spiritual necessity of humility as a condition of obtaining a clear and near vision of God. The law of reverential humility is binding upon the human soul, and has its original sanction in the majesty of God. The self-confident, arrogant, proud man, transgresses one of the laws that regulate his relation to the majesty of God, and is inevitably removed in spirit to a distance from the throne of God. He loses the faculty of realizing the Divine presence. The physical philosopher who proposes to approach the throne of grace, not as a humble suppliant, but as an irreverent experimentalist, asking for a sign of his own choosing, ignores the elementary truths of the relation existing between the King and the subject. He would acknowledge that for the successful performance of physical experiments, it is necessary to comply with all the known physical conditions. The laboratory of spiritual truth has its conditions. One of those conditions is that it must be pervaded in all its parts by the atmosphere of reverence. God will not reveal the light of His presence to man, however eagerly he may run forth to seek it, until he has learnt to recognize the weakness, the littleness, the unworthiness of his own being before the majesty of the most High. The patriarch's obedience to this law of spiritual insight is simply expressed in the words, "He bowed himself towards the ground."
4. The next clause in the text gives expression to the deep truth, that man cannot realize the blessedness of the Divine presence, without an earnest effort to give depth and permanency to his religious impressions. The Divine forms that came to Abraham doubtless passed over the plains of Mamre. They drew nigh to other tents, but those who dwelt beneath their covering realized not the blessedness of their approach, because they fulfilled not the conditions upon which it could be known. The high aspiration, the earnest inquiry, the spirit of reverence, were found only in the Father of the Faithful. The chosen patriarch fulfilled one other condition, without which souls cannot attain unto the clear vision of God. He had the grace of spiritual perseverance. He was not content to permit the truth that had poured its bright beams into his soul to pass away. He sought to deepen the Divine impressions received, and to make them permanent. Such is the significance of the prayer: "My Lord, if now I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant." In all the ages, the true children of Abraham are marked by this spirit of earnest perseverance, which seeks to deepen the experience of the soul. The dwellers in the tents of the world have not this characteristic. To them God draws near, but they never invite Him to stay. They seek to obliterate the impression at once; and in the angry impatience of a soul that will not give place, even for a moment, to the presence of the Divine life, that rebukes its own baseness, cry out, "What have we to do with Thee?... Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?" There are others who welcome the Divine presence for a brief moment, but soon grow weary of its influence. In the church, or in some hour when the heart has been softened into sensibility by some sorrow or joy, they obtain a passing glimpse of the Divine life. The blessed experience of God's abiding presence is only known by them who, in the spirit of the patriarch, seek by prayer to make the vision lasting. We must learn to pray, as true sons of Abraham, and loving disciples of our risen Lord, in the journey of life, "Abide with us." "My Lord, if I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant."
5. The next clause in the text, "Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet," doubtless gives expression to a deep and everlasting spiritual truth. What is the condition, essential to the entertainment of the Divine life, expressed in these words? They teach us that, in order to welcome the Divine life in its approach, the soul must apply to the forms in which it vouchsafes to dwell, the element of purification here represented by the water. We fetch fresh draughts of the cleansing influences that stream from the cross of Christ, and strive to welcome the life of God to abide with us, by washing away the dust that defiles the forms in which it vouchsafes to dwell. This is an everlasting condition, binding upon every son of Abraham. God will not dwell with us, and manifest the blessed light of His countenance to our souls, unless we seek to cleanse our walk in life. The dust of earth that clings to us unwashed away by the waters of grace; the unconfessed, unrepented, unforsaken sins, will make us utterly incapable of realizing the Divine life.
6. Another essential condition which man must fulfil in order to realize the blessed consciousness of God's presence, is expressed in these words addressed to the Divine forms: "Rest yourselves under the tree." What is the spiritual truth conveyed in these words? They teach us that there must be in human life hours of rest and calm meditation, in order to ensure the enjoyment of the Divine presence. The hours taken from the world and spent in Divine worship, in the calm peace of the church; the hours in which the soul enters into the closet, shuts the door, and prays to the Father which is in secret, are the hours in which man rises into the realization of the eternal life.
7. The last act in the patriarch's welcome of the Divine presence is described in these words: "I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on; for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said." The man is here permitted to offer unto the Creator of His own creatures in order to welcome His presence. Man is hero represented as offering gifts to sustain the forms of the Divine life, and his offering is approved and accepted as a part of the welcome which he was bound to give. Such is the duty that rests upon man for ever. His services in themselves are of no value. His prayers, worship, alms, oblations — these are nothing in themselves. But they must be offered as expressions of loving welcome to the presence of God. If they are withheld, God will not lift up the light of His countenance upon the soul. The welcome which the human soul offers to God, finds its full expression in the holy eucharist. This vision of God brought with it to Abraham special blessings. He was inspired to look forward to endless life, typified in the supernatural birth of Isaac; and to realize the doom of the lost souls, typified in the destruction of the cities of the plain. Such are for ever the fruits of the knowledge of God. It shows man the ways of life and death. If we would attain unto the blessedness of God's realized presence, we must remember that the conditions to be fulfilled are the same as they were thousands of years ago on the plain of Mamre.
(H. T. Edwards, M. A.)I. THE FRIENDLY VISIT.
1. Abraham's hospitality.
2. God's gracious acceptance. A singular instance of Divine condescension — the only recorded instance of the kind before the Incarnation.
II. THE FRIENDLY FELLOWSHIP. In the progress of the interview, as well as in its commencement, the Lord treats Abraham as a friend.
1. He converses with him familiarly, putting to him a question which no stranger in the East would reckon himself entitled to put. He inquires into his household matters, and asks after Sarah, his wife (ver. 9).
2. Then in the pains He takes, by reiterated assurances, to confirm the faith of Abraham and to overcome the unbelief of Sarah — in the tone of His simple appeal to Divine omnipotence as an answer to every doubt, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" — and in His mild but searching reproof of the dissimulation to which the fear of detection led Sarah, "Nay, but thou didst laugh," — in all this, does it not almost seem as if by anticipation we saw Jesus in the midst of His disciples, stretching forth His hand to catch the trembling Peter on the waters, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" or, after the denial, turning to look on Peter, so as to melt his soul to penitence and love!
3. It is chiefly, however, in the close of this interview that Abraham is treated by God as His friend; being, as it were, admitted into His deliberations, and consulted in regard to what He is about to do.
III. THE FRIENDLY AND CONFIDENTIAL CONSULTATION.
1. The Lord refers to the honour or privilege already granted to Abraham, as a reason for having no concealment from Him now (ver. 18).
2. The Lord, in communicating His purpose to Abraham His friend, refers not only to the high honour and privilege which that relation implies, but also to its great responsibility (ver. 19).
IV. THE LIBERTY OF FRIENDLY REMONSTRANCE.
1. There is no attempt here to pry into the secret things which belong to the Lord our God (Deuteronomy 29:29); no idea of meddling with the purposes or decrees of election, which the Lord reserves exclusively to Himself.
2. Nor in this pleading does Abraham arrogate anything to himself. He has boldness and access, with confidence, by the faith of Jesus. He has liberty to converse with God as a friend, to give utterance to his feelings and desires before Him, to represent his own case and the case of every one for whom he cares; and not for himself only, but for others, yea, indeed for all, to invoke the name of Him whose memorial to all generations is this: "The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:6, 7).
3. Abraham's expostulation, accordingly, proceeds upon this name of the Lord, or in other words, upon the known and revealed principles of the Divine administration. Aspiring to no acquaintance with the secret decrees of God, and standing upon no claim of merit in himself, he has still warrant enough for all the earnestness of this intercessory pleading, in that broad general aspect of the character and moral government of God, to which he expressly refers. For he knows God as the just God and the Saviour; and on this twofold view of the ways of God he builds his argument in his intercessory prayer.
4. Such is the principle of Abraham's intercession for Sodom. And as it is founded on a right understanding of the nature and design of God's moral government of the world, in this dispensation of long-suffering patience, subordinate to a dispensation of grace, and preparatory to a dispensation of judgment, so it is combined with a spirit of entire submission to the Divine sovereignty.
(S. R. Candlish, D. D.)
I. Its source: a kind and generous heart.
II. Its attendant qualities.
2. Admitting of no refusal.
III. The esteem in which it is held. It is —
1. Pleasing to man.
2. Approved of by God.
IV. The reward which it brings.
1. An angel may be entertained unawares.
2. Gratitude in its object is but natural to expect.
(J. H. Jones.)
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